Government must implement agreements freely entered
Nigerians woke up last Monday to receive the sad news of an indefinite nationwide strike by medical practitioners in all federal medical facilities. The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) had risen from its National Executive Council meeting in the wee hours of the day with a decision to reject a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) its leaders had signed with the federal government over the six-point demand on their conditions of service. NARD President, Dr John Onyebueze, said in a terse statement that he and his colleagues had decided “to reject the promissory offer from government and proceed on total and indefinite strike action until all items in our demand list for strike are resolved by government.”
Coming against the background of an agreement signed a few days earlier, the federal government’s interpretation of the strike as an act of bad faith was understandable. But given its knack for infidelity to implementation of agreements it freely enters into with workers’ unions, the authorities must take the blame for the unfortunate situation.
Specifically, the doctors demand that all heads of tertiary health institutions that have received funding from the federal government for the payment of all outstanding financial obligations should pay same immediately. Other demands include a resolution of persistent shortfalls and unpaid arrears of salaries earned in both federal and state tertiary health institutions; enrolment of resident doctors into the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS); addressing the non-implementation of adjusted House Officers’ entry grade level equivalent since 2014; resolution of the stagnation of promotion and non-promotion of members who had met requisite criteria despite all collective bargaining agreements and circulars; and the implementation of skipping for doctors in the health sector.
These were demands that had been negotiated and agreed upon with the federal government years back. Two strikes, in 2015 and 2016, had been called to protest the non-implementation of the agreement. In July 2017, the doctors issued a 21-day ultimatum to government to play ball or risk a strike. It expired without a response from the government. They then issued another 14-day ultimatum. A few days to the expiration of the second ultimatum government suddenly rushed to sign a MoU with the leadership of NARD.
Given the issue of distrust, it was no surprise that negotiations initially broke down again last Thursday, with the doctors insisting that only bank alerts indicating the payment of the agreed sums would persuade them to call off the strike. We are however heartened that both parties had reached an agreement that will eventually lead to the suspension of the industrial action this week.
 Whatever may be their grievances, the principal objective of medical and dental practitioners is the promotion of the health of patients. While it is not wrong for them to put pressure to bear on the government, this must not be done in a way that contravenes their professional oath. Beyond the rising death toll of the ordinary citizens who patronise public health facilities, the strike is also affecting medical students training programme and related activities.
However, we also believe that time has come for the federal government to overhaul its collective bargaining machinery with a view to ensuring effective implementation of agreements it freely enters into with its workers. Incessant strikes are hugely inimical to the health of the economy and, in many ways, disruptive of the social order. There is an urgent need to abate this ugly trend.